Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: Research Breakthrough Suggests Biological Factor

Newborn cot
The feet of a newborn baby on a maternity ward at Argentueil hospital, Paris, July 22, 2013. Fred Dufour/Getty

Breakthrough biological research into Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) suggests babies die as a result of decreased levels of a brain protein, according to scientists.

Researchers at the Royal Alexandra Hospital For Children in New South Wales, Sydney, said that if their findings are correct, babies could be screened at birth for risk of SIDS.

This is the first time experts have offered evidence of a medical explanation for the fatal syndrome, which is often referred to as "cot death."

Orexin, also called hypocretin, is a neuropeptide that regulates arousal, wakefulness, and appetite.

The most common form of narcolepsy, in which the sufferer undergoes a temporary loss of muscle tone, is caused by a lack of orexin in the brain due to the destruction of cells which produce it.

Experts say a similar lack of orexin has been found in infants who have died from SIDS.

"It's linked that there is a sleep-related issue, which we've always known because the babies die in their sleep, but we didn't know what it was linked to but this protein seems to be a major player in it," the hospital's sleep unit manager Dr Rita Machaalani told The Daily Telegraph.

"If we can determine what's the normal level in babies when born than we can use those abnormalities to predict kids that might be at risk in the future of SIDS or sleep apnoea."